A helicopter pilot shortage brewing? We’ve heard that one before. When I started flight training in 2008 that was the scuttlebutt. We consistently heard that there was an imminent pilot shortage. Former Vietnam pilots would soon retire in droves. Meanwhile, the current crop of military pilots extended contracts due to fat reenlistment bonuses. Put it all together and you’ve got employment conditions ripe for newly minted helicopter pilots.
The Pilot Shortage Myth
That myth of a helicopter pilot shortage in the mid-late 2000s was mostly put forth by a shady flight school owned by a man with a history of sketchy multi-level marketing schemes. He discovered a way to secure financing for flight training at a time when banks were lending fast and loose. Foolish new students would sign over the full cost of flight training prior to acquiring a loan. A sales pitch that involved a very real sounding pilot shortage provided a steady flow of potential students. That flight school made millions of dollars before closing the doors and leaving hundreds of people high and dry with big loans and no jobs.
What’s Different This Time?
Why should anyone believe stories of a new pilot shortage looming? Because this time it’s different. We’re not hearing stories from a sketchy salesman. We’re seeing articles in mainstream helicopter publications backed by industry surveys and university research. Established helicopter operators are expressing genuine concern about their ability to find enough qualified helicopter pilots over the next 18 years.
Both the UND Study and an article in the Mar/Apr edition of Rotorcraft Pro Magazine site several factors. First, there is a growing need for helicopter pilots. Operators are adding new helicopters to the worldwide fleet. That growth is both here in the US and international, especially in China.
Second, the pool of available pilots is shrinking. Not only are fewer civilian pilots training, the military really IS holding on to trained pilots longer. Training a military pilot is expensive, so keeping them in the ranks with good bonuses makes sense. We’re also seeing helicopter pilots lured over to the airplane world with signing bonuses and paid transition training.
All of this combines to put a real strain on the helicopter pilot pool. Signs it’s having an effect on the market? According to the Rotorcraft Pro article, median salaries for helicopter pilots are up $25,000 from 2014 to 2017.
What’s This All Mean?
The future looks good for helicopter pilots. We’re already seeing an increase in pilot pay. If trends continue, competition for qualified pilots should mean even better pay and benefits with plenty of job opportunities. If you’ve ever thought about making helicopters a career, join us for an introductory flight to see if it’s for you.